Gender norms are not neutral. These norms play out in complex ways that can be damaging to both men and women. The labelling and confining of people into rigid, hierarchical gender norms can pressure people to hide or suppress parts of their diverse and complex personalities and interests to conform to narrow gender stereotypes and norms.
Domestic and family violence is complex and wide-ranging, but at its root it is strongly linked to male entitlement and violence-supportive masculinities. There is comprehensive evidence that points to rigid gender roles and stereotyped constructions of masculinity and femininity as one of the key drivers of violence against women.
The link between violence and masculinity
We know that most violence against women is at the hands of men they know. Yet, men's violence against themselves and each other is far greater than the violence they commit against women and children. Men are seven times more likely to be assaulted by another man than by a woman. They are also five times as likely to be assaulted by a male stranger than by an intimate partner. We also know that the leading cause of death in young men aged 18-35 is suicide.
While not all men commit violence, perpetrators of the most serious violent crimes and abuses are men. This much is clear.
So the issue is not whether men are more violent, it's why are men so much more likely to be violent?
In most western settings, it is traditional masculinity that is dominant. Aggression, hardness, physical power and lack of empathy are the qualities most highly valued. These norms are manifested in every global system of domination – governmental, financial, military and domestic - encouraging men to grasp for status and domination, and protect their privilege at any cost.
Mainstream masculinity believes that:
- Self-esteem is established through achievement, competence and success
- A man who needs help to deal with issues or problems is weak, vulnerable and incompetent
- Expression of soft emotions is un-masculine
- Communication based on sharing feelings, intuitions, and physical non-sexual contact is to be avoided
- Men are biologically superior to women
- Men are more powerful, fiercely competitive, dominant and controlling than women
- Women being better at taking care of others, while men are better at doing business and being decisive
- Sexuality is performance and goal-oriented
- It is acceptable for men to use their power, dominance and violence to keep control inside and outside the home
- Real men are tireless, invincible and keep working regardless of the personal or health risks.
The rates of violence against both men and women is far higher where there are dominant constructions of masculinity, and peer pressure to conform to these expectations. 3 When male violence does occur, it is often condoned or excused (‘he just couldn’t control himself’), and women who also believe these gender norms are also less likely to report it.
Nobody wins here. Many men who are raised to believe in these values, but who lack power having been denied access to the rewards such values supposedly offer due to culture or class – and who never encounter alternative narratives – become angry, depressed, violent and destructive. This toxic model of masculinity leaves boys and men struggling to cope with trauma and feelings they are taught are ‘feminine’ and therefore weak, unable to feel safe enough to talk, and full of shame and stigma.
What we need now more than ever is a revolution of our mainstream archetypes of masculinity. We need to expose the domination paradigm for the destructive myth that it is, and place the Christ model of peace, respect, trust, safety, and caretaking of each other and the planet at the helm.
Challenging the gender drivers
In your church community, SAFER encourages you to do the following:
- Individually or in groups encourage and support self-reflection to consider personal male privilege and power, and to critically explore their own assumptions about gender roles and stereotypes
- Teach on different models of gender and humanity – models that value peaceful coexistence, mutual tolerance, caretaking of each other and of the planet
- Use non-violent role models as positive role models for boys – in particular, men who display values of peacemaking, non-violence, empathy and compassion
- Avoid over-emphasising men’s leadership in prevention at the expense of acknowledging work by women, or allowing men to dominate discussion in mixed settings at the expense of women’s voices
- Encourage men to call out sexism
- Hold abusers accountable for violence (when led by the victim to do so).
Explore this further
- The Conversation explores how Perpetuating stereotypical masculinity can lead to violence against women here
- Michael Kaufman on the 7 Ps of mens' violence
- ABC opinion piece How good men need to reclaim masculinity from the toxic cliche of power and aggression
- The Good Weekend examines the great sexual reckoning of #metoo
- Phil Drolet considers 3 lies you were told as a boy
- Tony Porter’s A call to men TED talk looks at modern masculinity
- Michael Salter explains why Real men do hit women
- Rev Megan Powell Du Toit talks about Raising Boys II Men
- Ken McMaster on Men’s Emotions and the Old Rule Book
- Sam Vaudrey on how to combat Gender microagressions
- Nora Samaran explains how The opposite of masculine rape culture is masculine nurturance culture
- Amy Joyce suggests Five ways to raise girls to be leaders
- Amightygirl lists children’s books, movies and toys that promote gender equality and challenge gender stereotypes
- Everyday Sexism Project catalogues instances of sexism experienced on a day-to-day basis